Paper presented in the annual conference of Prajapati Brahmkumari Vishva-Vidyalaya, Mt Abu
(For other articles by Dr. Swatantra Jain, please check this webpage)
‘Be careful son, lest you should fall on the stone lying ahead’, I warned the boy who was crossing the road carelessly while talking on mobile. And lo! He fell down the moment he said rudely in his local Haryanvi dialect ‘Mannai bhi dikhai hai (I can also see)’. I said ‘something’; he heard ‘something else’. Similarly you may mistake a chord to be a snake and vice-versa. You would respond to whatever you hear and see and not to what was said or actually present before your eyes.
Friends, our behaviour depends on our inherited characteristics, life situations and subjective perceptions, their interpretations and the way we experience them. Generally a person entangled in a negative situation feels that his needs & emotions are continually being ignored and rights trampled. Despite being positive, we may perceive these situations as totally negative and vice versa and react according to our subjective perceptions rather than objective situations. Just as in the above example of chord and snake, it happens in our interpersonal relations also. We derive our own meaning according to our thinking, attitude or mood and react accordingly.
Most important life situations are social transactions and interactions during our socialization process and the resultant quality of human relationships. Different ways of socialization process communicate different messages to us all. We interpret these messages subjectively according to our own inherited characteristics, psycho-social needs and life situations. These interpretations in turn lead us to identify and verbalize different kinds of RIGHTS which result in non-assertive, assertive or aggressive behaviour.
Relationships depend on the quality of our social transactions: You ask me, ‘How are you?’ I say, ‘Very fine’. This is one verbal transaction between us. This can be non-verbal also, viz. being in hurry, you simply ‘smile at me’. I also return it with ‘smile’. It is a ‘heart-to-heart’ transaction without any speech. While making some headway in our transactions, we may become rational/irrational, assertive/non-assertive, aggressive/non-aggressive or positive/ negative. It’s the quality of our transactions with others that determines the quality of our social interactions with them. Hence, harmonious relations ultimately depend on the harmony between the ‘self’ and ‘others’.
Our transactions depend on the ‘Ego States’ within every individual: After analyzing different forms of social transactions, the famous psychologist Eric Berne concluded that every individual can have one or all the three Ego States simultaneously active in him/her, viz. ‘The Parent’, ‘The Adult’ and ‘The Child’.
While the ‘Adult’ is logical, rational and responds on equal footing, ‘The Child’ and The Parent’ react out of inferiority and superiority complex respectively. The logical and rational ‘Adult’, personifies ‘Peace’ within, but ‘The Child’ and ‘The Parent’ Ego States always finds fault either with the self or with others. When one finds fault with his own self, he attributes every incident to himself, but when one finds fault with others, he attributes the same to some outer source.
Harris says, ‘The Adult’ may be tainted by ‘The Parent’ due to its ‘prejudice’ or by ‘The Child’ due to its “delusion”. The more one’s ‘Adult’ is polluted by the ‘Parent’ and ‘The Child’, the greater is the possibility of deteriorating relationships. A logical and rational individual is able to separate these states and maintain cordial relationships.
How these Ego States develop in us: These Ego States have their roots in our four life positions/ orientations developed in our lives. Thomas Harris, author of the world famous book, ‘I am OK, You are not OK’, explained that during our socialization process, we may develop four different life orientations. They are classified into two main polarities, ‘I & You’ and ‘OK’- ‘Not OK’. On the bases of three Ego States of ‘Parent’, ‘Adult’ and ‘Child’ and the above two polarities; each of us can develop following four “life positions”.
Four life positions Ego State active
I’m not OK,You’re OK’ Child
I’m not OK, You’re not OK’ Revolting/defiant
I’m OK, You’re not OK’ Parent
I’m OK, You’re OK’ Adult
How childhood treatment affects our life-positions and relationships: Every child is born helpless and depends on his parents, teachers and society for the fulfillment of her basic needs and psycho-social demands. The child develops her life orientations according to the kind of treatment she gets from her parents and significant others. After all, how do we form opinion about our own selves and others? The one who treats us kindly and takes good care of our needs is good and vice-versa. Let’s see what sort of treatment in childhood leads one to take different life positions and how it affects his/her relationships?
‘I’m not OK, You’re OK’: Some parents, though supportive & loving, are too authoritarian or fully controlling. They don’t trust their capabilities and have full control on their children. They don’t give them freedom and let them feel secure. Such parents and people with active ‘Parent’ Ego State use judgmental words e.g. ‘Stupid, ridiculous or disgusting. They always talk about ‘dos and don’ts’. Such children lose confidence in them and gradually develop the feeling that they are not OK but their parents and others are OK’. So their transactions become childish.
‘I’m OK, You aren’t OK’: This position develops in those kids who find their parents and elders to be hostile or inadequate. Such children consider themselves to be right/OK and others to be inferior/not OK. They are led to be dominant, aggressive and humiliating in their relationships.
‘I’m not OK, You aren’t OK’: Some parents are neither supportive nor controlling type. They hardly bother to fulfill the psycho-physical and social needs of their children. Such kids turn into defiant and develop the orientation, ‘I’m not OK, but you too aren’t OK. They develop negative relationship with others.
‘I’m OK, you’re OK’: The authoritative parents, who are fully caring, accepting, supportive and loving; help and guide their kids grow and develop into full-fledged autonomous beings by their apt and timely support. Such kids develop the orientation ‘I’m OK, you’re OK’. They are logical with their ‘Adult’ active. This is the best possible position where there is no scope of considering others to be inferior as they are happy both with themselves and others and treat others politely on contentious issues even.
How you can frame yourself and others as being OK: Think about how you frame your position. Then think about the other persons and how they frame it. Also note how some combinations work aptly and ideally viz. when one person has the position of ‘I am OK- You’re not OK’ and the other person has the position ‘I’m not OK-You’re OK’. In such matching positions, the bond is stable and both gain some comfort from this. Problem arises when both have ‘I’m OK-You’re not OK’ position or when positions do not match. This becomes a recipe for conflicting relationship.
Thus, it is evident that all the three Ego States of ‘Parent, Adult and Child’ are intrinsically related to the four life orientations we adopt in life’.
The roots of negative, bitter and humiliating relationships hence lie in negative orientations and resultant Ego States of ‘Parent and Child’.
But, don’t feel dismayed. Continue trying to activate your ‘Adult’ and change negative positions into positive ones. We must learn to differentiate between passive/compliant, aggressive/hostile, assertive, rational and logical positions v s non-assertive, irrational and illogical positions on the one hand and our expectations, rights, needs, sentiments, attitudes, limits and ways of handling a situation on the other.
Characteristics of our limits:
• They are individual.
• They are changing.
• They are free from intent and effect.
Along with it, we have to owe the responsibility for our thoughts, feelings, and actions viz.
• I’m responsible for my feelings, thoughts and actions and others are for theirs;
• I’m responsible to the effect my behaviour can have on others and that I won’t feel guilty for others actions/behaviour.
• Know our personal rights & needs and the consequences of not knowing the following:
1. Our rights and limits
2. We must understand our socialization process and analyze the wrong;
3. Poor versus better ways of describing;
4. Certain dos and don’ts;
5. How to say ‘no’ politely but assertively;
6. How to identify and accept interpersonal rights;
7. Removing psychological barriers to assertion;
8. Developing assertive skills and activating ‘Adult Ego State’.
All these steps gradually but positively help us analyze our negative transactions by accepting and respecting others as well as our own rights; by seeing reason and by correcting our wrong positions taken in life. This will lead to peace within and outside and culminate into harmonious relationships.